It’s January fourth and already you’ve cheated on your New Year’s resolutions. Crap. Clearly you can’t stick to a simple plan so you may as well turn on the TV, open a fresh bag of Cheetos, and resume the path of least resistance. There’s always next year, right?
Perhaps next year is sooner than you think. If January first is irrelevant to your yearly life cycle—aside from, perhaps, a predictable hangover—then forcing a change will set you up for failure. Most likely, there is a less arbitrary place somewhere else in your year where you naturally tend to organize thoughts about the future: a personal new year.
The new year is a time of reflection, transition, and growth. It should beckon the excitement of opening a new book, not rushing to complete an assignment. Consider the rhythm of your life. Is there a time of year where something naturally concludes and something new begins? Maybe it’s as simple as the expectation that your child’s school year ends for summer and resumes in the fall. For most of us, there is a place in the calendar year that feels like the beginning of something new, but it’s nowhere near January first.
In the natural world, spring heralds growth and welcomes a fresh start. Blossoms bloom, animals awaken from hibernation, and migrations begin. This natural transition is reflected in the human world in ways as simple as the ritual of a spring cleaning—an embracement of our awakening habitat. Throughout history, human survival in both agricultural and hunter-gatherer societies hinged on tuning into natural rhythms. It is only in the last handful of generations that humans have deafened to the more subtle of those synchronizations, yet some larger ones still pulse through human societies around the globe—even if we are less aware of them.
Nomads sync to the rhythm of the seasons and often our personal new year hearkens spring or fall transitions. My personal new year occurs in the fall. It doesn’t happen overnight, which is helpful because I’ve been told I require time to process things. Similarly, summer doesn’t relent easily. Sparkling fall colors slowly cascade down the northern hemisphere, and leave cool winds and dimming leaves dropping in their wake. My own mind dances along in that period of transition, and uses that framework to distill my personal reflections into clearer thoughts.
Summer employment concludes about five weeks after my birthday. Birthdays mark some people’s personal new year but for me they kickstart the process. Did I do what I set out to accomplish this year? How do I feel about those things? Are they still important? What do I want the next year to look like?
Around this time of year I’m finalizing my winter plans so those questions get forced to the back burner. There are logistical hassles I expect to encounter that will prevent me from giving those questions the reflection they deserve. My winter profession is snowboard instruction so after deciding if I’ll return to my home mountain or explore somewhere new I still have the headache of procuring winter housing. But soon the stresses fade and the adventure begins. I have two and a half months in which I literally do not have employment available to me, and that is precisely the payoff I have been working for all year. This year I summitted Kilimanjaro, went on safari in Tanzania, saw my friend’s life in Rwanda, completed my first multi-day whitewater kayaking trip, and visited family and friends in two states. Next fall’s adventure will draw on inspiration from the coming year, but for now I reap the reward from the year’s toil.
As the fall ramble pushes forward it bulldozes a clearing of headspace and those birthday questions revisit me. How do I feel about everything up to this point? Were the pros worth the cons to be here today? What do I value at this point in my life? What do I want to accomplish? What steps will I need to take to accomplish those things? Where will those steps fit in? From these I distill a resolution game plan, and when I move into my winter habitat that plan is set in motion. Any changes to the day to day must be incorporated now or TV and Cheetos will muscle out the opportunity.
The holidays mark the busiest time of my year professionally. From mid-December to early January, there simply isn’t spare time or mental energy to consider if I’d like to, say, learn Spanish—not in any real way at least. If the thought did occur to me I couldn’t entertain it nor begin contemplating where it might fit in my daily/weekly/monthly routine or if maybe French would in fact be the more practical choice to pair with future traveling prospects. An incunabular thought can be scheduled for future germination.
The timing of my personal new year developed naturally and I learned to embrace it. I do, however, check in on my resolutions at the calendar new year and consider my progress. Part of having resolutions is recognizing the difference between a slip up and a lack of commitment. Work craziness is an acceptable excuse until it becomes TV and Cheetos—the go-to excuse that masks lack of commitment. If it really is the latter then its time to reexamine if that resolution is right for you. Sometimes, you shed failed ones to free up room for what is right in your life, because the wrong resolutions can act like TV and Cheetos, as well. The process of checking in continues leisurely throughout the year.
Life is wasted on regrets for the irrelevant and resolutions need not be one of them. Resolutions should put you in pursuit of desires worth working to obtain. If your desire is for TV and Cheetos then go be the best at that. Whatever it is, don’t quit simply because you didn’t get to it on January first. In relation to how the planet functions and how society interacts therein, January first is irrelevant. The placement of the personal new year is intrinsic upon individual values and shaped by forces as deeply rooted as our ancestors’ relationship to the land. The new year cannot be forced in place of natural rhythms; heed their wisdom.